David and I were walking down 28th Street some chilly evening and we were talking about a very fantastic maneuver that we had recently seen in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It's the part where the huge trolls charged the main gate and burst into the white city, overwhelming the feeble human defense, clearing them out like so many dust bunnies, using enormous clubs. The human soldiers were understandably shaken and scared out of their wits, taking in account the tens of thousands bloodthirsty Orcs hankering outside and the Nazgûl's flying reptiles snatching them up at their leisure and dropping them from outrageous altitudes. They had no champions to match the trolls in strength or size. Their only champion was a frazzled old man on a horse, a wizard, to be specific, wearing a perfectly white ensemble, and looking important enough to bark orders at everyone--this being the extent of his efforts. Right. Next thing you knew, this white wizard, looking sleepless, stressed, perhaps finally sensing the potent threat, decided to charge the hulking trolls atop his white horse. He twirled his white staff like a baton, pivoted away at the last moment, and took a long distance swing at the nearest troll with his sword. It was a minor thrust, at the utmost distracted. He could have been playing croquet, after a spot of tea, because the carrying out was so disturbingly casual, given the situation. It seemed to be an afterthought, this funny business of slaying trolls. And nearby, men with cracked armour found themselves dying from fits of shock and the last sight that flashed before them was a short and meager display, a muted, almost secret, hurrah. We looked at the attack from all sides and, after much deliberation, we came to the conclusion that the sword barely reached, barely brushed the monster's throat. The troll might have felt no more than a slight breeze, and yet, without delay, it slammed into the ground like a sack of potatoes.
It's magic. It's murder! We're much impressed. We watch it again. Slow motion this time. Ha! We can't believe it. We're discussing it later while walking down the street. We feel the action in our guts as if we were really there, bearing witness to that insane, finishing blow, which was by all accounts a close shave. Usually, when someone talks about a close shave, they begin by describing a certain danger, how it arose and became imminent, how they were on the verge of strife, when such and such happened, when someone or something interfered, and they managed to evade the threat, thus enabling them to recount, with customary embellishments, how they were almost had. The sample scare is the worst of it, and it's always amusing later on to recall exceedingly anxious times. But, how does a close shave come to mean the flipping off of an unstoppable light switch? Imagine the troll's final mongoloid thoughts brashly penetrated by the holiest of steel: SMASH! Archer. SMASH! Pawn. SMASH! Squire. SMASH! Wha--? Whiteness. Foolish old man. SMA--! Ohhhhhh, wha-wha--? My word! I say, I was very nearly hit--was I--who does he think he-- Dead! Not just dead, stiff, completely stiff. Gandalf pulls the rug out from under his monstrous soul. You wonder, did he really have to prep his swing like that? Could a really mean look have sufficed? Was it showmanship, a game of style? Whatever it was, our collective guts took a quick plummet then perked all the way up, up, up--how it raised our morale! We who were crouching in a stone doorway, launching our futile hail of arrows, waiting to die like the dozens before us. Why couldn't the wizard have blessed our damned arrows?? If this is some insane holy war, with magic, magic, for God's sake, why, we want to be magic ourselves! Let's be generous with the magic!
We hit the street. We rehearse the scene, over and over, sustaining the action alive. David's account is chock-full of cusses, in praise of that juggernaut goodness, the kind of righteousness that sidesteps all compromise and simply opts to wipe you out, cold-blooded, like Matthew 11:12. He affects a stance of sympathy for the troll and wonders if, prior to dying, the dim crony was able to realize that bitter truth, that ray of light that falls so heavy on the brows of henchmen: Mongo only pawn in game of life. I tell it as I have written it above, with all the same pizazz. It's familiar company like David's that allows for otherwise private indulgences. People compose their little scenes like puppet shows. Life, a mockery. We make sure we both saw what we saw, point by point, and we invoke the images again and again, like someone recycling the same breath in and out of a paper bag, until the poor alveoli whither like raisins, and the brain begins to borrow from another party. The result is a funny lightheadedness that hovers about us like a rosy nimbus. Soon afterward we're talking of something else, it's only the span of a few minutes, but that nimbus floats on ...
Like I said, my version was a faithful redaction. There is a sentence above where I hang on the color white, i.e. the white wizard, white horse, white staff, and this profusion of white served to remind David of a funny part in an essay. It was written by Chinua Achebe, the subject being Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In this essay, Achebe condemns HoD for its garish brand of racism, claiming that it goes above and beyond the general temperament of its time. If you'll remember, Conrad has the Africans speak only twice in the story, and these are both instances of questionable eloquence: once to express their most average wont to eat their unseen enemies (cannibals, they!), and the other is to utter the famous announcement: Mistah Kurtz--he dead. According to Achebe, Conrad's literary seeds should not be sown into American schools, as HoD is often required reading, for these could flower with tints of prejudice and remain preserved this way for future generations. As soon as I got home, I read the essay and had myself some laughs indeed. Here's the portion that David was talking about:
But even after due allowances have been made for all the influences of contemporary prejudice on his sensibility there remains still in Conrad's attitude a residue of antipathy to black people which his peculiar psychology alone can explain. His own account of his first encounter with a black man is very revealing:
A certain enormous buck nigger encountered in Haiti fixed my conception of blind, furious, unreasoning rage, as manifested in the human animal to the end of my days. Of the nigger I used to dream for years afterwards.
Certainly Conrad had a problem with niggers. His inordinate love of that word itself should be of interest to psychoanalysts. Sometimes his fixation on blackness is equally interesting as when he gives us this brief description:
A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms ...
as though we might expect a black figure striding along on black legs to wave white arms! But so unrelenting is Conrad's obsession.
David and I resume our walk. We are headed to the nearest burger stand, Tams #8, which is a long block away, that is, several hundred yards. We are walking perfectly side by side and the length of our steps are curiously in synch. I believe that one of us notices this peculiar detail and attempts to walk a little faster ahead. In situations like these, it is hard to tell the instigator because we know each other's responses so well it borders on telepathy. The initiative or what have you flows into the both of us simultaneously. The smallest difference in our strides is compensated instantly. Pretty soon we are power-walking, exaggerated arm swinging and all. Awkwardly enough, we are looking straight into each other's eyes, all the while keeping this bizarre pace, and people idling in their front yards are stopping to see what's come over us. It has all the makings of violence about to erupt, so their interests are quickly piqued. Morituri te salutant! They sense a certain fervor teasing a naked vent. Our eyes trace an indiscernible music, a rabid drum, in the air between us. We're both deeply entranced, when I blurt Fuck it! and lunge forward, breaking into a frantic sprint! David's already madly dashing! His knees are pumping just as high, his breaths are glued to mine, our lungs are copycats! It's redundant! It's fast! No one's gaining! It's an equal match--we're superimposed! Dogs add their roars to the bargain and the streets whir by on both sides like a reeling cartoon. We take no heed, no obstacles, the ground is flat, level, gotten over pronto. But--hey!--the burger stand is a spec long gone, it's way behind, we pass it! The second I make this realization, although I don't hesitate at all physically, David acquires a burst of speed and manages several moving feet ahead of me. The trance broken, he stops cold. I brake directly. Our faces are heated. We greet the stars with quiet gasps. There is a sense of loss, a distinct heavy feeling. Gravity asserts itself once more. By way of prompt account, David says:
--Whatever it was we were doing, I won, I think.
--The goal was Tams #8. We're not at Tams #8. Something happened alright. What was going through your head?
--When? While we were running?
--Well, I imagined that I was being chased.
--Yeah, in the beginning, it was dogs. But you kept going faster, so I thought I better think about cops chasing me instead. More consequence that way. You can lose a dog at the first fence. Cops are tricky.
--You were thinking about all that?
--Not really. Not the difference. Not like I'm saying it. I think in images, I guess. And then I place myself inside them. Why, what were you thinking of?
--I was thinking about ... nothing, nothing at all! I was just running. I think you cheated.
--Cheated ...? How?
--Using your imagination.
--No, listen. I don't think people are supposed to think when they're running. Sprinting, anyway, not like this, and with a destination in mind. The most they probably get to think is I'm running! I'm running! like a tape in fast forward, with the words so blurred together in sequence as to make it non-thought, a command speeding up and down your spine. Don't you think this kind of race demands such a rule?
--No. I don't think that at all.
--You'd rather not think it, you mean!
--Right. It sounds like sense. You really know the sound of sense, so that I don't know whether you're making it or just sounding it, but I really don't think it. I'm not thinking it right now and I'll probably forget it later. I'm thinking you're trying to cheat me somehow. But I'll agree that you won the race, I guess, since I don't feel like much of a winner. There aren't any prizes, anyway.
--No, there aren't any prizes, not now. But what if about a week from now or months later, you experience an unexplained moment of giddiness, of peace? You think it's a song you're listening to or a fine piece of whatever, but it's not that simple. What about heaven? Isn't that the ultimate, ineffable prize? You are in the process of getting to it, always. You can't even understand it, trapped in your body as you are. I'm talking about accessories like that, in heaven, plush items, harps and big-eyed virgins. These must be obtained in subtle ways, in the most obscure situations, and you never really know what you stand to gain or lose at any event.
Oscar Gabriel Gallegos (¿Quién demonios fue?), that poor bastard who shot the Long Beach officers, was killed exactly five days after this post, in a final showdown. Thinking about his haggard, chubby face, I sought to express him as having the stale look of someone perpetually tired, a cruel but lazy soul given a rare start. However, he proved to be quite fiesty, in the end. Oscar, I hardly knew ye.